Dana Merrill, Winegrape Grower Earns SIP Certification
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor
Dana Merrill is a seventh-generation farmer of an eighth-generation Californian farming family and president of Mesa Vineyard Management, a premium vineyard management service on the Central Coast. A graduate from Cal Poly with an Agriculture Business degree, He is a member of the Merrill Family Estates, an estate that produces premium winegrapes for its Pomar Junction Winery, and he’s extremely involved with the Paso Robles Wine Community.
Recently, his winegrape growing operation earned the Sustainability In Practice (SIP) certification.
“We worked very hard to attain this certification,” Merrill said. “Most of the changes were positive moves. It’s not meant to be a penalizing certification, but there are specific restrictions. For example, we don’t use any Class I restricted materials. If the US Environmental Protection Agency has commented about a substance, ‘Hey, that is Class I. It may be legal, but as an herbicide, it has a tendency to leach into the groundwater,’ then the SIP system won’t allow it. There are times when I’ve said, ‘Boy, I wish I could use a certain material,’ but there are some I simply cannot use in order to qualify for the certification.”
Merrill continues, “The SIP also takes into account how you treat your labor. For example, more ‘points’ are awarded if you offer a benefit program, continuing education support, a retirement program, or health insurance. These days, everybody has to offer health insurance, but points are awarded for that, even though some of us have offered it for over 20 years. Points are also earned for best-practice management whether it is fertility management, soil probes, or having water meters on all your wells and using the information to manage how you irrigate. The idea is to encourage folks to do more and raise the bar.”
“Being SIP-certified helps with marketing too,” noted Merrill. “If you get the SIP seal on a bottle of wine, a consumer can go be assured of the excellent quality of that product.”
“It is marketing in the sense that we are always selling ourselves to the consumer,” Merrill explained. “You know, the consumer may ask, ‘Why should I buy a bottle of SIP wine? Why should I buy California wine?’ I think that branding or labeling conveys a message to customers about what is important to them. Some consumers are very environment-oriented; others are looking primarily for quality. Your label conveys that message. There are customers to whom it is less important, but I see its significance growing. I would say 50% of the people who visit our tasting room find that label on an SIP-certified bottle of wine quite meaningful,” Merrill said.